Since the start of this surge of Palestinian attacks on Jews, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly accused Palestinian leaders of spreading lies about Israeli policies.
“There is no question that this wave of attacks is driven directly by incitement – incitement from Hamas, incitement from the Islamist movement in Israel, and incitement, I am sorry to say, from President [Mahmoud] Abbas and the Palestinian Authority,” Netanyahu said Thursday in Berlin, where he met with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
In his remarks, Kerry called to “end the incitement, end the violence and commence a road that people can really understand is a road that takes people somewhere.”
As one example of incitement, Israeli officials point to a video they say was made by Hamas, the Islamist group that runs the Gaza Strip.
The video uses actors to show a young Palestinian man with a knife killing two men in Jewish religious dress. An Arabic message at the end urges Palestinians to rise up.
Israel has also cited comments by Abbas.
Last month, when Palestinians and Israeli forces were clashing daily on the Temple Mount, or Al-Aqsa compound, the Palestinian leader said, “We won’t let them defile our holy places with their filthy feet.” It wasn’t clear whether Abbas was referring to Israeli police or to Jews who visit the Temple Mount.
More recently, Abbas said on prime-time Palestinian television that a 13-year-old Palestinian boy had been killed by Israeli police. But the boy was alive, being treated for injuries in an Israeli hospital, after allegedly participating in a knife attack.
Israeli cabinet member Yuval Steinitz calls attacks on Jews by individual Palestinians uncoordinated, but said Palestinian leaders were encouraging them.
“It’s not unorchestraed, because it’s the result of years of horrible, racist, anti-Semitic incitement,” he says.
Palestinian officials point right back at Israel.
They say Israeli settlement building in the West Bank has inflamed tensions for decades. They quote Israeli ministers saying there will not be a Palestinian state.
Qaddura Fares, an advocate for Palestinians held in Israeli prison, points to two Netanyahu statements in particular.
One was the Israeli leader’s remark this week that a Palestinian religious leader gave Adolph Hitler the idea to exterminate Jews in the Holocaust. And the other was a Netanyahu comment suggesting Abbas has ties to the Islamic State, which is often called Daesh in Arabic.
“That there is a unity between Daesh and al-Qaida and Mahmoud Abbas, Abu Mazen. And the responsibility of the Holocaust is a Palestinian one, not Hitler,” Fares says, citing Netanyahu’s remarks.
Israel’s central claim of incitement has been that Palestinian leaders spread rumors that Israel plans to expand Jewish rights on the Temple Mount, or Al-Aqsa mosque compound, the most sensitive holy site in Jerusalem.
Right now, Jews are not allowed to pray at the site, where the Al Aqsa mosque was built more than 1,300 years ago, centuries after the Second Jewish Temple was destroyed at the same spot.
Netanyahu has made it clear he has no intention to change the status quo. But Palestinians say Jewish activists who want to change the rules are gaining more power.
This was the beginning.
Shimrit Meir, an Israeli expert in Palestinian social media, says Netanyahu’s accusations of Palestinian incitement are out of touch.
She does believe Abbas and the official Palestinian media are encouraging violence, but no one is listening to them.
“Abbas is very unpopular,” she says.
Meir cites viral videos of stabbings and shootings as prompting other Palestinians to carry out copycat attacks. Whether it’s amateur shots of the attacks, or images from Israeli security forces after assailants are shot dead, each lays the groundwork for the next attack, she says.
“For example, this one photo of a Palestinian running after an Israeli soldier with knife. It got the reaction of admiration. Man and woman, young and old, were just praising this person. And he became a hero. A true hero,” she says.
She is referring to a 26-year-old Palestinian who dressed as a news photographer then stabbed a soldier near Hebron. The Israeli soldier was wounded. The Palestinian attacker was shot and killed at the scene.
In an shop with Internet access in a West Bank Palestinian refugee camp, Hisham Lafah, 25, agrees that Palestinian leaders are not inspiring attacks.
“These are individual acts, felt by every Palestinian, but some decide to resist, and others don’t,” he says. “Mainly what provokes us are Israeli acts. Every day the Israeli occupation is acting against our humanity and freedom. We don’t need anyone to provoke us.”
His Facebook posts feature pictures of Jewish funerals, of Palestinian attackers and of his cousin, blinded by Israeli gunfire, he says, in a clash with soldiers last spring. Could he imagine attacking an Israeli himself? He says no, he’s his family’s sole breadwinner.